Duty of Fair Representation
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A subject of much concern is the duty of fair representation (DFR). This refers to the legal obligation of unions to represent all members of the bargaining unit in an equal, diligent, honest and non-discriminatory manner. A union which commits a DFR violation can be charged with an unfair labor practice. The union may also be sued in court.
Clearly, it is important for unions to understand their DFR obligations. As a steward, you should adhere to the following rules:
- Do not refuse to file or process a grievance because of a worker's sex, race, nationality, age, religion or political activity—even if you consider the employee to be a destructive force within the union. You must diligently process grievances for all employees in the bargaining unit, whether or not they have joined the union, and whether or not they are paying dues.
- When a grievance is brought to your attention, conduct a thorough investigation of the facts. This includes interviewing witnesses. Unions have been found guilty of DFR violations when stewards or officers accepted company allegations at face value, or conducted "perfunctory" investigations.
- Do not miss deadlines in processing grievances or in filing for arbitration. Some contracts have strict time limits. A steward who misses a deadline is risking a DFR suit against the union.
- Keep employees informed of the progress of their grievances. If the union chooses not to arbitrate, explain the decision to the grievant (and keep a record of the date of this conversation.)